After I picked up on the breaking story of the death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi on Sunday evening (with follow-up articles here and here), there was considerable interest from bloggers, including, in particular, the Brad Blog and Empty Wheel at Firedoglake, before the mainstream media finally picked up on it.
It remains to be seen whether the most crucial aspects of the story that impact on American audiences — al-Libi’s tortured lies that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and the wider question of diplomatic arrangements that involved Libyan prisoners seized by the CIA being rendered back to Libya — will survive an initial flurry of headlines, but on the question of al-Libi’s death, and whether it was, in fact, suicide, as the Libyan authorities claim, two experts have weighed in with their opinions, and both follow a line that accords with the opinion of Human Rights Watch, whose researchers fleetingly met al-Libi in a prison courtyard two weeks ago, and stated that he “looked well.”
The Associated Press spoke to Yasser al-Sirri, an Egyptian exile who runs the Islamic Observation Centre in London, who confirmed, as a source of mine informed me yesterday, that, on Sunday evening, the Libyan authorities had contacted al-Libi’s family and requested them to come and collect his body. Al-Sirri added that al-Libi was buried in Ajdabiya the following day, and told the AP that he doubted that he had committed suicide, as he was a “true Muslim and Islam prohibits committing suicides.”
Newsweek added further details, reporting that Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of the Gaddafi regime, also doubted that al-Libi had committed suicide. “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya,” al-Ghwell said, adding that, throughout Gaddafi’s rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”
As yet, we have had no reports about the condition of al-Libi’s body, but al-Ghwell indicated that he felt that al-Libi’s death may have followed the pattern established above, but with a twist based on the recent disclosure of documents relating to the Bush administration’s policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and of Libya’s involvement. “My gut feeling is that something fishy happened here and somebody in Libya panicked,” he said, adding, as Newsweek described it, that, “With the prospect that the Obama administration might release more Bush-era documents about the treatment of CIA detainees, officials in the Gaddafi regime had reasons to be concerned that their ‘complicity’ in the US war on terror would be exposed.”
Adding another layer to this theory, Newsweek also reported that al-Libi “had recently been identified by defense lawyers in the US as a prime potential witness in any upcoming trials of top terror suspects, either in revamped military commissions or in US federal courts.” Brent Mickum, the attorney for Abu Zubaydah, another alleged “high-value detainee,” who knew al-Libi well, as they were both involved with the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, explained that he “had recently begun efforts through intermediaries to arrange to talk to Libi,” and said of his death, “The timing of this is weird.”
That’s all for now, but I hope to have a major update in the next few days.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For updates on this story, see: Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq and In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? and CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval (all April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (May 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
Newsweek’s report that al-Libi “had recently been identified by defense lawyers in the US as a prime potential witness in any upcoming trials of top terror suspects, either in revamped military commissions or in US federal courts” is HUGE. This gives possible motive for what is looking more and more like a political murder.
Add to this the initial effort to get “intermediaries” to talk with al-Libi, and this makes even more sense. After all, what were they going to talk about? I wonder if Human Rights Watch was really only coincidentally there. Another human rights group admits trying to make contact, as I reported in my Firedoglake story yesterday, picking up on the original reporting at UK Telegraph, Clive Stafford Smith, said, “”Reprieve has been exploring tentative contacts with al Libi, and his death may have been a result of the pressure to allow him to speak openly about his torture.”
You’ve been doing a superlative job, Andy, on this story as so many others. I think the al-Libi story will turn out to be of the highest importance. Great work!
[...] in two previous articles, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? and Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, this is highly unlikely, and it is far more probable that Colonel Gaddafi had him killed because [...]
[...] was much better suited to forcing a prisoner to state something that was not true – prisoners like Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (who coincidentally appears to have been suicided recently in prison in Libya) and Abu Zubaydah who [...]
[...] dead men tell no tales, while it is possible al-Libi died without ‘help’, I think the probabilities point to a hit to protect the guilty in the US & UK governments. Expenses are the least of these [...]
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